Friday, July 16, 2010

The Trouble with Heartworms

What is a heartworm?
A heartworm is an actual worm that can live inside the heart. Heartworms are nematodes related to free living worms like earth worms. The adult heartworms are six to ten inches in length and when they reproduce, the baby worms are called microfilaria. These microscopic baby worms are released into the dog's blood stream.

How do dogs get heartworms?
The microfilaria are picked up and carried from dog to dog by mosquitoes. So we see a lot of heartworm infections in any area with a lot of mosquitoes. We see many cases of heartworm disease throughout the southeast, but Florida has the greatest number of heartworm cases of anywhere in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of heartworms?
Symptoms include weight loss, lethargy, and coughing. Left untreated, heartworms will lead to heart failure and eventually death.

Are heartworms treatable?
While heartworms are treatable, the procedure can be costly and there can be side effects.
Most importantly, safe and effective preventative medications are available from your veterinarian. Most of these medications are given once a month and kill the baby heartworm before it becomes an adult worm.

So what should dog owner's do to protect their dog from heartworms?
  • Your veterinarian will perform a blood test to make sure your dog is not already infected.
  • If the heartworm is negative, the doctor will prescribe a heartworm preventative medication.
  • Continue the heartworm prevention all year long, for the life of the animal.
  • Have an annual blood test to make sure the medication has been effective.

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